The Silica Standard: A Case Study of Inequality in Worker Health and Safety Standards

by Katie Tracy | May 19, 2016

Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed the significant health risks to workers. 

The unconscionable delays and unjustified concessions awarded to industry at the expense of workers' health and safety are hardly unique to the silica standard; rather, they are the product of our broken regulatory process, which is riddled with analytical requirements designed to generate business-friendly outcomes. 

In the case of the silica standard, OSHA set the permissible exposure level (PEL) at 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) – the level recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1974. But despite clear scientific evidence of the significant risks to workers, OSHA took four decades to finalize the rule because of intense industry pressure to stop it. 

Industry leaders hired lobbyists to fight the new standard on the grounds that reducing exposures would be prohibitively expensive to businesses, ignoring the fact that workers and taxpayers have historically paid the costs of these hazards. During this 40-year fight, industry ...

OSHA's New Silica Rule: CPR's Matt Shudtz Reacts

by Matt Shudtz | March 24, 2016
Decades in the making, OSHA’s new silica rule will better protect millions of workers from a highly toxic, cancer-causing substance that has killed thousands while the rule slowly worked its way through the regulatory gauntlet, administration after administration. Today, in quarries, foundries, building sites, and kitchen rehab jobs across the country, workers can look forward to breathing cleaner air. But today’s announcement is far from the end of the story. Next comes the inevitable litigation. Following their tired playbook, special ...

How Much Longer Will it take for OSHA to Protect Workers from Deadly Silica Dust?

by Katie Tracy | August 18, 2015
Thousands of U.S. workers die every year because of on-the-job exposure to unsafe levels of crystalline silica, a toxic dust common in the construction, sandblasting, and mining industries. Even at the current legal limits, inhaling the tiny toxic particles poses a significant risk to workers of silicosis—an incurable and fatal disease that attacks the lungs—and other diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders. If you’re exposed to silica dust at work or know someone who ...

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